Well, the good news is that Penn State managed to grab its seventh win of the season with a 22-10 home victory over Wisconsin in Beaver Stadium. The bad news is that the Nittany Lions had some all too common bumbles late in the game to give the Badgers momentum and hope to get back in the game. That being said, Penn State had some impressive performances in the contest, particularly on the defensive side, which wreaked havoc on Wisconsin’s pocket and quarterback Jack Coan, containing him to just 60 yards passing while sacking him five times and grabbing two interceptions.
The last time Penn State lost to Wisconsin 2011. Since then the Lions are 4-0 vs. Bucky, including a Big Ten championship game victory.
Here’s a look at some of the major highs and lows from the game.
THE HIGH FIVE
Victory Bell: Penn State advanced to 7-3 on the year, bouncing back from the disaster in Ann Arbor to get a much-needed victory over Wisconsin. Granted, the Badgers were depleted, but despite some stumbles, the Nittany Lions found a way to get the win and never really seemed to lose a handle on the game even when they had some missteps.
Miles & Miles: For the most part, Miles Sanders was a workhorse in this game for the Nittany Lions. On the day he rolled up 159 yards on 23 carries (6.9 YPC) and a touchdown, in large part because the coaches focused on him on north-south runs rather than east-west scampers. He used his strength to grind out yards, while breaking open a few. The performance helped Sanders surpass 1,000 yards rushing on the season in this game. The offensive line did a solid job getting him space and opened lanes to give him opportunities to make plays.
Passing Lane: While Trace McSorley‘s ground game was clearly not up to par Saturday (more on that in a bit), he managed to make up for it with his arm, going 19-for-25 for 160 yards with one passing score and no interceptions. He did what he had to do in delivering the ball, spreading it around to seven different receivers, who managed to largely do a better job hanging onto the ball. McSorley’s performance helped him tie Penn State’s record for most wins as a starting quarterback with 29. KJ Hamler led the way for the receivers with five catches for 35 yards.
Pressure Point: The Nittany Lion defensive line managed to get pretty consistent pressure on Wisconsin’s pocket, causing Coan to run for his life at times, while containing him to 9-for-20 for 60 yards and two interceptions. Defensive tackle Robert Windsor, and defensive ends Shareef Miller and Yetur Gross-Matos combined for 14 tackles (13 solo), five sacks, six tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. On the whole, Penn State’s defense held Wisconsin to three red-zone trips and surrendered only three red-zone points
Steady State: While third down conversions have been a major weak point for PSU this season, the team showed some steady improvement converting third downs in this game. Granted, the squad got itself into too many third-and-long situations, but it managed to convert 6-of-15 third downs and 2-of-2 fourth downs. Those third down numbers aren’t stellar, but based on where they have been, they are much improved.
Clean Play: PSU managed to trim down the penalties today, committing three for a loss of 22 yards. Comparatively, Wisconsin drew six flags for 50 yards in the game.
Kick It: Jake Pinegar was both a high and a low in this game. You can see his low below, but in terms of his high, he hit three field goals of 49-, 42- and 23-yards in some windy conditions. Despite his struggles, the kicks he made were key in helping PSU keep pace ahead of Wisconsin.
THE LOW FOUR
Beaten Up: With McSorley nicked up again in this game, nursing the knee injury that has been nagging him over the past few weeks, the coaching staff insisted on running him into the teeth of Wisconsin’s defense, right into that interior defensive line. This not only didn’t pay off much — he had a mere nine yards on 11 carries — but also unnecessarily put his health at further risk.
Hold On: Penn State’s staff has to go over how to simply hold onto the ball, particularly for players who aren’t accustomed to handling it much. For example, Shareef Miller fumbled a fumble recovery return that would have been a huge advantage for PSU late in the game. CJ Thorpe also fumbled (which PSU recovered) trying to stiff arm a defender on a kickoff return. I get the desire to make a play, but giving up the ball doesn’t help the team any. On top of this, the mis-snap to Tommy Stevens late in the fourth quarter when PSU could have basically ended the game was all too representative of this season.
Disconnected Call: The offensive play-calling for Penn State continues to be baffling as Ricky Rahne continued to go to McSorley’s legs late in the game on designed QB runs in his hobbled state and had streaks where the offense all but ignored the passing game. The logic of the offensive staff’s play-calling continues to be tough to follow at times.
Kicked Out: While Pinegar hit three field goals, his tendency to hit low, weak kicks bit him twice in this game with a blocked 44-yard boot and a missed 45-yard kick that was on target, but well short of the uprights. He also missed a PAT. Hopefully, he gets his consistency on track to close out the season.